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Remarks by Konrad Scharinger

(Reposted to this site on 9/15/2006)

Remarks by Konrad Scharinger,
Economic Counselor at the German Embassy, Washington,

Presented at the 17th Annual Conference of the Association of Holocaust Organizations,
Baltimore, Maryland June 11, 2002
It is used here with permission of Konrad Scharinger.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me make some remarks on the moral and historical background of the German compensation efforts. I would then give you some information about the Foundation Remembrance, Responsibility and the Future, a foundation under public German law established in 2000. The program of the Foundation finds its expression in the name I just quoted: “remembrance, responsibility and the future”.

Remembering the Holocaust has been a major issue in German politics especially again in the last decade. Several factors explain this renewed interest:

a change of generation both on the political scene and in the German business world permitted an easier and less biased approach to the past.
after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 opening our horizon to Eastern Europe and recognizing the atrocities Germans committed during World War II
growing interest in the Jewish contribution to German science and culture in the 19th and early 20th century.
Our German responsibility was summed up by Federal President Rau in front of survivors in December 1999 during the negotiations establishing the foundation, “Remembrance, Responsibility and the Future”:

“We all know that no amount of money can really compensate the victims of crime. We all know that the suffering inflicted upon millions of women and men cannot be undone. I know that for many [survivors] it is not really money that matters. What they want is for their suffering to be recognized as suffering and for the injustice done to them to be named injustice. I pay tribute to all those who were subjected to forced or slave labor under German rule and, in the name of the German people, beg forgiveness.”

But Germany acknowledged responsibility not only two years ago when the foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and the Future” was established. Let me go fifty years back, right after the end of World War II:
First steps of property restitution to Holocaust victims were taken by the Allied Powers after the surrender of Germany in 1945. Right after the rebirth of West German political structures on the municipal and state level, Germans took over this task. The most important breakthrough was the Luxemburg Agreement of 1952 between the Federal Republic of Germany, the State of Israel and the Jewish Claims Conference making payments available for Israel to facilitate the integration of settlers and for the Claims Conference to assist Holocaust survivors outside of Israel. At the same time, the young West German State pledged comprehensive restitution and compensation legislation.

Under this legislation, property was returned to former owners or their heirs or, where heirs did not exist, to the Jewish Claims Conference. After the German Reunification in 1990 this restitution was extended to Eastern Germany. On the compensation side, 4.4 million claims were filed based on acts of racial and other Nazi persecution for damage to health, liberty and so on. About 40% of recipients live in Israel, 10% in Germany and the rest in other countries. To date, a total of over DM 100 billion – DM 200 billion in today’s value ($104 billion) -have been made available in compensation and about 1.2 billion DM – 624 Million. $ – continue to be paid each year to about 100.000 pensioners.

To mention are also hardship funds, global agreements with Western European nations and Reconciliation Foundations in Eastern Europe set up after 1990.

The Foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and the Future”, a foundation under public German law, was established as a result of complicated negotiations in 1999 and 2000 between Germany, the United States of America, Israel and certain eastern-european countries, the Jewish Claims Conference and the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC). Half of its capital of ten billion Deutsche Mark, about 5 billion US$, is the German taxpayer’s money, the other half is money from German companies.

The Foundation ” Remembrance, Responsibility and the Future” is not a predominantly Jewish enterprise. More than 80% of the payments are directed to former non-Jewish forced workers, mostly living in Eastern Europe. Nor will its most ambitious project, a 700 Million. Deutsche Mark endowment called Future and Responsibility Fund be dedicated predominantly to Holocaust issues. By the will of the German Bundestag it will cover a much broader field of “projects that serve the purposes of better understanding among peoples …, youth exchange, social justice, remembrance of the threat posed by totalitarian systems and despotism, and international cooperation in humanitarian endeavors”.

With the Foundation, its funding with 10 billion Deutsche Mark and the agreement on lasting legal peace we have made an effort to draw a financial line under the darkest chapter of our history.

A final line. There cannot be and must not be a moral line. It is only if we understand this that there can be a way out of the dark past into a bright future.